A committee of MPs has ruled that the current consultation surrounding Phase 1 of the HS2 route must be extended until 10th February, following a failure of the bill to comply with parliamentary standing orders. The consultation, which consisted of over 50,000 pages had been due to conclude on 24th January. The decision comes as a result of HS2 Ltd missing off a total of 877 pages from online and memory stick versions of the consultation documents.
The extension to the consultation will mean that the second reading of the Hybrid Bill cannot now happen until 27th March at the earliest. Today it was also announced that the Supreme Court will rule on the Judicial Review appeals case relating to HS2 next Wednesday, 22nd January 2014 from 9.45.
In June last year, Parliamentary procedures where changed to allow the consultation to be distributed on memory stick, but pages were missing from these, along with the online version of documents. When Patrick McLoughlin wrote to MPs informing them of the error on 16th December, he stated “Most corrections relate to just one page, but a slightly greater number were omitted from a number of the Cultural Heritage reports and the Land Quality reports.”, However, a document attached to the updated memory sticks received by MPs on January 2nd clearly states that 877 pages had been missed off from the earlier versions.
However, it transpired that a total of 877 pages had been omitted, concerning: Cultural Heritage Survey Reports; Community Map books; Planning Data; Land Quality; Construction assessment – Sound, noise and vibration; Landscape & visual assessment; Waste & material resources assessment; Cultural Heritage – Gazeteer of heritage assets; Agriculture, forestry and soils; and a Transport Assessment Annex of Baseline survey reports.
These omissions covered 17 Parliamentary constituencies, and while updated memory sticks were available on January 2nd 2014 within Parliament, they were not immediately available at libraries along the route. This was in complete contradiction to claims from HS2 Ltd that all errors were corrected by December 16th 2013.
To highlight just how poorly HS2 Ltd have performed, the meeting today of the Standing Orders Committee, called after a Parliamentary group known as ‘The Examiners’ had found breaches in Standing Orders, was the first such meeting since 2008. Today, officials from HS2 Ltd tried to downplay the errors in the consultation documents, but even the documents they had presented to the committee of MPs contained errors themselves, and when it was claimed that it wasn’t though that the lack of missing pages had any effect on the ability of people to respond, Charles Walker MP replied “You would think that, wouldn’t you?”
HS2 Ltd representatives went on to plead that the deadline for consultation responses should not be extended as it would delay the second reading of the bill, before going on the use excuses such as:
“We hope you will agree the data is somewhere else in the documents, or is unimportant.” and “This information is missing, it’s not hiding.”
While one instance of missing data had to be pointed out to HS2 Ltd by the Coal Authority, the quango tried to defend another piece of missing information by saying that only the Oxfordshire County Archaeologist has spotted it was missing and would like to see some maps, to which Mr Walker quipped “Maybe because the other people are still looking for it?”
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“With the Standing Orders Committee having to be called for the first time in six years and agreeing that Parliamentary Standing Orders have been breached, yet again those in charge of HS2 have been proved to be completely incompetent, only interested in rushing this white elephant through as fast as possible, and like the politicians who support the project, offering excuses which are weaker than ‘The Dog ate my homework’. A few typos would be excusable, but missing hundreds of pages is gross incompetence, and trying to get away with it is gross arrogance.”
“Getting and extension to this consultation is good news, but even with the extra fortnight, it still means that this consultation, on a document over 50,000 pages long, is still the shortest consultation of the six there have been on HS2, which still isn’t fair on anyone wanting to make a reasoned response. If this is truly the biggest single engineering project the country has ever seen, why are we not having a proper public inquiry on HS2?”
Penny Gaines, Chair of Stop HS2 said:
“Firstly, HS2 Ltd claimed that ordinary people only needed to read the part of the 50,000 Environmental Statement that’s relevant to them. But now, they’ve told Parliament that it didn’t matter that information was missed out of several documents, because it was in different documents. From the answers they gave to the Committee, it’s clear that HS2 Ltd are continuing with their arrogant attitude towards the many thousands of ordinary people who are trying to engage with HS2 Ltd and the hybrid bill process.”
“The committee’s decision to extend the environmental statement consultation deadline shows that at least some MPs in Parliament aren’t going to let the Ministers and HS2 Ltd railroad this vanity project through.”